Demonoid, Down Again.

Demonoid, one of the best torrent sites featuring rich content of all sorts has been taken down by its Canadian ISP. A sad day indeed.

*Update* Apparently the info was incorrect. They had a problem in upgrading servers, and this useful resource will return.

*Update 2* Sorry, its really dead this time.

Columbia University hosts Ahmadinejad

Reacting to yesterdays news regarding behaviour unbefitting an elite academic institution, a loyal reader had this to say.

*Update* A good Charlie Rose interview conducted before the Columbia University incident.


The Northwest Passage

In all of recorded history, the Northwest Passage has been blocked by arctic ice making the route unnavigable. It is now open for business, a cause for great concern.


Google Reader Part Deux

In the past few months, I have come to use Google Reader as a source for 95% of my news. Even high frequency sites I have come to accept on the reader as I have better learned to skim the headlines and not read every posting or article. There is now some fracturing of the RSS domain in which some sites give you all the content via the feed so you need not leave the Reader interface, whilst others, usually commercial news outlets, give just a snippet and force you to visit their page to view the entire article. They then can bombard you with adverts, assuming one lacks the appropriate Firefox plugins.

Unfortunately Google Reader can be so useful that it becomes somewhat addicting and time consuming. The more feeds to which one subscribes, the more one feels compelled to read. Technologies are available to distil and repackage customised information from feeds.

Besides the aforementioned sharing ability of the Reader, the Reader finally received a Search box recently which greatly enhances its utility. My shared feed is of course available. I would point to this as the cause of my decline in postings. Many of the things I wish to share with the world speak for themselves in these articles.

Today, on the Companion Page, I have exported and published my current list of RSS feeds. You can import this file directly into your own Reader Account. (More Podcasts to come)

Happy Reading.


Monetary Theory and Policy

Having had some brilliant lecturers in college, particularly in History, I have always wished that those lectures would have been recorded for the world to appreciate. Gradually lectures are making their way onto the Internet. Berkeley seems to be making progress. I just discovered Mark Thoma, author of the quality Economist's View blog has his Monetary Theory and Policy course online through Google Video.


A Suggestion for Microsoft

With the Windows Vista flop, M$ tried to position itself to compete directly with Apple on image alone. Undoubtedly, the Vista eye candy was in impressive display as are the animations of OSX. Having used a MacBook Pro for over a year now, I can tell you that I am less and less impressed by Apple by the day. Perhaps the biggest reason is that virtualised Windows under Parallels seems to run faster and more cleanly than all of the Mac applications. OSX I end up just using as a shell in which I run Windows. Everyone loves to slam Windows, but XP runs stably, quickly, and very easily. Compared to Linux, getting something to run just as you want it in Windows is a real breeze especially for the amateur. This has much to do with market share and demand, but some credit has to be given to good design also.

M$ is now aiming to compete directly with VMWare in the Virtualisation market. A wise move. By the way, VMW is a really good short and I am going to start buying Put options. I did not track the dot com era stocks much at the time, but this is a classic dot com irrational exuberance or simply a misinformed market. Dont get me wrong, they have a great product, but they also have much powerful competition right on their tails (Citrix, M$, Parallels). They are already giving their VMWare Server away for free. How could the market capitalisation then be anywhere near Adobe? Remember you heard it here first.

Back to M$. The one thing I still respect and cannot take away from Apple after all the pretty graphics and sexiness has lost its lustre: it is based on Unix, ie FreeBSD. It is therefore able to run any Linux application with an easy to use front end and the possibility to Virtualise or incorporate M$ products. In other words, it is a computing Superset. This flexibility alone makes having an Apple somewhat justifiable especially for scientists, quantitative researchers, and anyone in Graphics Editing.

M$ could close this gap and take back some market share from Apple by taking a few years to completely rewrite its OS this time with a Unix kernel following Apple's lead. I believe there are intelligent people in Redmond and working for M$ in India and China who still have much to offer humanity be it in OS, personal or industrial intelligent devices, other periferal software, etc. They yet could sell an OS which would be far less the disdain of computer geeks everywhere and which they actually might start to prefer above other Unices (OSX, Ubuntu, Fedora). It would be a bold and risky move to radically change course as I proposed. They should either do this and have hope of long run survival and even leadership, or they can suck out whatever is left from their current OS whilst pursuing something entirely different and dooming themselves to eventual irrelevance, hopefully still returning significant value to stockholders in the meanwhile.

As a closing thought, I used to think like one of those geeks unsatisfied with closed-source models of mediocrity, or perhaps just like an economist opposed to monopolies. However, M$ can no longer be considered a monopoly and their products, closed source though they may be, are much more stable than they used to be. I therefore have for the most part lost my disdain for them.

Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose is probably the best Interviewer I know. His interview technique is calm, respectful, engaging, and empathetic set in a minimalist black set with an unparalleled guest list. The programming used to be pay-only Google Video (besides being broadcast on PBS). Thankfully, that arrangement has terminated. It now seems his content is available freely and rightly so. Valuable video feed.


Brad DeLong Lecture Podcast

My favourite economist, J. Brad DeLong of Berkeley has published on his new Podcast his lectures from this years course American Economic History. The sound quality is unusually good.

Open Media Content

Occasionally on this blog I make strong criticisms of Copyright Law. Given the recent controversy of the BBC iPlayer OS limitation and DRM, I would like to state unequivocally that publicly sponsored media including NPR, PBS, BBC, CBC, ABC, etc, should all be licenced as Creative Commons or similar licence. The distribution of such content should therefore not be distributed with DRM but rather under the most cost effective means to deliver the information to the masses and allow even the "mashup" or editing and redistribution of such content with the appropriate credit and disclaimers. This would also apply to scientific articles supported by publicly funded research. In that case, all research materials including lab notebooks and instrument readouts should be published freely in the public domain excluding information which could violate personal privacy or public (National) security.


Richard Dawkins, Galapagos Lectures

On an eco-tourist cruise to the Galapagos aboard the Santa Cruz, Richard Dawkins delivers several lectures on population genetics and the evolutionary process. Having read several of his books and watched most of his documentaries, I assumed I had just about exhausted his educational potential. This lecture series showed me the fallacy of this assumption. These are some of the best lectures I have heard on the subject, beautifully delivered as always by the eloquent professor. Available at Demonoid. Some lectures available at Google Video.


Irrational Living Practices

Every year, some fairly predictable natural disaster occurs and devastates large areas of land creating human death and misery and property damage. Earthquakes, flooding, and hurricanes come to mind. After the disaster, affected regions usually prey upon the sympathy of others to rebuild their homes and cities through both charity and governmental subsidy. A notable example is the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Army Corps of Engineers was widely blamed for the failure of the levies and the subsequent flooding. 1) The inefficiencies of the legal code to deploy National Guard soldiers without the consent of a State Government combined with 2) the normal inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of government at all levels and 3) a general lack of psychological preparedness for infrequent devastating events resulted finally in an anarchistic, violent scenario of devastation and distress. The reconstruction efforts have basically followed in the same mode despite billions in subsidies and tax cuts.

The critical problem which is politically incorrect to address is who decided it was a good idea to build their house in a flood zone in the first place. In the case of New Orleans, the sad answer was everybody, but especially the poor. Since in economic terms the wealthy had far more to lose, it makes sense that the wealthiest areas of New Orleans were constructed on somewhat more secure ground. It is not fair to say, however, that the risks living below sea level next to one of the world's largest rivers which regularly changes course was properly priced into the housing market. Most people who build their houses in flood zones are either ignorant of the risks, risk loving and possibly irrational, a very high personal discount rate, or a very high preference for living in those areas. Unfortunately psyche of humans, like many pack or herd species, is far more prone to feel secure in a clearly irrational situation so long as everyone else does the same.

A related problem of course is the question of climate change. Far more people are in far greater danger than Katrina owing to probable climate change from human activity. Many major cities are rationally addressing the fallout by considering dikes and other technologies to ensure the cities survive intact. Others are intelligent and ambitious enough to build flood-proof houses.

Whenever possible, avoiding a confrontation with nature is the wisest course of action. Reducing greenhouse emissions and not constructing cheaply in a predictable future disaster area are good rules of thumb. In the event of an inevitable but unfortunate catastrophe, federal governments in all of their fiscal inefficiency ought not be expected to pay.